This old-fashioned “Expendables” sequel feels pretty creaky at times
As action movies go, “The Expendables 2″ is seriously past its prime.
The movie’s high-tech toys and special effects might belong to 2012, but this sequel to 2010′s “The Expendables” is grounded stylistically in 1988 — a time when “Die Hard, “First Blood” and “The Terminator” were the ultimate in action cool.
The familiar formula feels creaky but comforting at the same time. For better or worse, any savvy moviegoer could predict the plot twists in “The Expendables 2″ with pinpoint accuracy.
When we first reunite with gun-for-hire Barney Ross (Sylvester Stallone) and his ragtag band of badasses (Jason Statham, Jet Li, Dolph Lundgren, Terry Crews and Randy Couture), they’re on a rescue mission in Nepal.
It’s a recognizable routine: Go in guns a-blazing and and blow everything to kingdom come. The only difference this time is that the team has former Army sniper Billy the Kid (“The Hunger Games” hottie Liam Hemsworth) as backup.
Ross and his boys do a bang-up job, rescuing not only their target but an ungrateful mercenary named Trench (Arnold Schwarzenegger).
Then the mysterious Mr. Church (Bruce Willis) shows up with a new mission. He’ll hire this “gang of psychotic mutts” to extricate a computer from a plane wreck in the mountains of Albania, on one condition: They have to bring Chinese codebreaker Maggie (Nan Yu) along for the ride.
No sooner have they liberated the whatsit, of course, than the gang encounters Jean Vilain (Jean Claude Van Damme) and his evil army of terrorists, with a beaten and bloody Billy in tow. True to his name, Vilain commandeers the gadget, then — spoiler alert! — high-kicks a giant knife into the Kid’s chest.
“Respect must be taught!” he pronounces, practically flicking the air with his forked tongue.
Minutes later, Maggie adds insult to injury by explaining that the stolen computer contains blueprints to an abandoned Soviet Union mine where five tons of weapons-grade plutonium are being stored. As Vilain tells his right-hand man, Hector (Scott Adkins), “Six pounds of pure plutonium is powerful enough to change the balance of the world. Imagine what five tons will do!”
Can Ross and his buddies stop Vilain and save the day? I think you know the answer to that.
Packed with explosive firefights and absurd stunts, “The Expendables 2″ is an action comedy with an unusually high body count. Bullets fly. Corpses and coincidences pile up. And groan-inducing one-liners fly faster that snowflakes in a Siberian blizzard.
That’s why it’s so disconcerting when the movie takes an unexpected dip into melodrama with the death of young Billy. All the sudden, we’re supposed to sympathize with these one-dimensional cartoon characters and their quest for revenge.
Gimme a break. This is a movie without a moral high ground.
“The Expendables 2″ is at its best — and most bombastic — during its numerous fight scenes. And director Simon West (“Con Air,” “Lara Croft: Tomb Raider”) gives Stallone and his fellow action stars plenty of chances to strut their stuff.
Martial arts master Li beats up a bunch of thugs with pots and pans. Blade expert Statham, disguised as a monk, slices and dices his way through several baddies while boasting “I now pronounce you man and knife.” And Stallone, he of the creepily bulging biceps and horrible-looking hair, takes on a sunglasses-sporting Van Damme in a knockdown, drag-out battle that captures only a fraction of their old bravado.
Although Willis has his moments as mean-spirited Mr. Church — his crack about “male pattern badness” rings particularly true — the true standout here is walking, talking Internet meme Chuck Norris. Cool as the proverbial cucumber, his character Booker appears and vanishes at the most opportune moments, a will-o’-the-wisp with a flat Oklahoma accent and an assortment of cool toys.
In comparison, Schwarzenegger seems downright uncomfortable, his leathery mug barely moving as he mutters his throwaway quips.
Sure, the men of the “Expendables” movies may not be the best role models out there. They have an unhealthy fixation with bazookas and battering rams, an unshakable love of puns, and hopelessly outdated ideas about masculinity, international relations and the opposite sex.
But if you’re looking for a loud, large and stupid action flick to fill a lazy summer afternoon, they’ve got exactly what you need.
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